Little did I know, at 19 years old, the price that had to be paid for the “progress” that the country was undertaking. While I now know that many were skeptical, few Black Americans knew that price better than Frank Wilderson, III, one of only two American Black members of the ANC, who with several other ANC members, was labeled by Nelson Mandela “a threat to national security” in 1995.
Wilderson, author of the newly published and highly controversial memoir “Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile & Apartheid,” offers an incisive view of how a liberation movement becomes a political party. He also reckons with what happens to a revolutionary who returns to a U.S. Left, mired in the politics of gaining access to the “rights” of civil society in multi-culti
I met Wilderson this past Sunday at a small reading at the Salon D’Afrique, a longstanding
“The Black demand is for subjectivity,” stated Wilderson. “But progressive political movements must have a coherent goal, but the reality is that the demand cannot be met by a coherent demand, like a civil rights policy for access into civil society.”
He modeled Incognegro after the 1987 autobiography of Black revolutionary Assata Shakur (currently in exile in Cuba), with chapters alternating between South Africa and the U.S. “The organizational structure comes from Assata Shakur—how do you write about a revolutionary underground movement, anti-black racism in liberal and progressive California, and also the use of poetry,” Wilderson remarked.
Many of the guests who’d read the book were struck by the biography of his early life as the son of two academics who were the first family to integrate a Minneapolis suburb – as Dr. Ismaili noted, “not the stereotypical background of a Black revolutionary.”
Others, including myself, were struck by the places of sheet vulnerability in the work of a Black male political memoir. I am still reading the book, but I find this aspect particularly refreshing.
A central question of the book is whether any real differences exist between the
This notion flies in the face of what so many on the left extrapolate from Black leftist politics—people seem to love the idea that Black revolutionaries learn to transcend concerns about Black people to take on more “international” concerns. From Malcolm X’s trip to
“The world needs the Black position,” Wilderson said.
And though my friends, in 1994, watched the elections in South Africa with some level of pride and relief, we knew that being Black, whether from Soweto or St. Louis, Mombassa or Montego Bay, is what brought us into that room in the student center, shut away from the rest of the campus. But the hope we had is exposed as a fraud both in Incognegro and by the realities of where
Incognegro, as a book, and Wilderson’s incessant and unrelenting look at the failure of the integration of Black concerns and liberation into “civil society” makes me highly recommend this book, and suggest you get yourself over the next few days to one of his three readings in
October 21, 2008, 6-8pm
Medgar Evers College, CUNY
1650 Bedford Avenue
October 22, 2008 7:30-9:30pm
The Brecht Forum
451 West Street (between Bank & Bethune Streets)
New York, NY
October 23, 2008 06:30PM - 08:30PM
New York University
Meyer Hall, Rm. 121
4 Washington Place [between Broadway and Mercer]
New York, NY